Stop Assuming, Start Doing

A recent LinkedIn post, Take it From Me, Don’t Assume, by Barbra Bukovac, discussed the author’s assumptions about PwC’s work environment for mothers, (e.g., “I assumed I wouldn’t have the flexibility to be both a mom and a rising leader of the firm”), which led her to leave PwC for a job that she felt would provide a pace more conducive to the personal time she needed as a mother. Fast forward three years and she is back at PwC where she is both the professional and the mother she aspired to be. She realized that she needed to stop assuming that PwC had rigid norms for face-time in the office, and start communicating her needs for flexible scheduling to her partners, teams and clients, who were all receptive and accommodating to her reasonable scheduling requests, allowing her to be with her children at times she deemed important.

Barbra’s article got me thinking: What other assumptions might women make that potentially limit their career? And if they stop assuming, then what should they start doing?

To answer this question, I reflected on my own thoughts and behaviors, and my experience in mentoring and sponsoring women. Early in my career, I realized that I did make faulty assumptions that served to impede my performance and growth. In my role as head of human capital and now as an executive coach, I can recall many instances in which I coached women to identify and dispel assumptions that hindered their professional impact and progress. Based on this anecdotal evidence, here are three “stop assuming > start doing” suggestions for women to consider:

Stop assuming that if your manager believes you are qualified for a promotion, s/he will give it to you > Start communicating your interest and readiness for more responsibility

The Center for Talent Innovation labels this assumption “the tiara syndrome”, the belief that “outstanding performance is automatically crowned with a promotion.” I saw this firsthand when a women expressed to me her own disappointment about not being promoted to a manager role that was recently filled by one of her peers. I asked if her boss knew she wanted the promotion, and she said she assumed so. When I asked her boss the same question, he said she was certainly qualified for the promotion, but he assumed that she did not want to take on additional responsibilities given she just had her second child. The manager’s sexist assumption aside (that’s for another post), here you had a double whammy of assumptions that prevented a woman from being promoted despite her ambition and qualifications. So stop assuming you will get a promotion because you are qualified, and start communicating your desire and readiness to take on more. As a former boss once said to me “I can’t read your mind so you have to tell me what you want [from your own career].”

Stop assuming that if senior people want your perspective they will ask you for it > Start proactively engaging decision makers, especially when your perspective differs from theirs

I have seen women remain quiet in a meeting, only to tell me later that they completely disagreed with the senior person in the room. I have also experienced women telling me, after I made a bad decision, that they predicted the negative outcomes of that decision. When I asked why they did not come to me with their concerns, they said they only felt comfortable providing their views if asked. This was certainly helpful feedback for me (i.e., I needed to solicit my team’s perspective more often), but I would have so appreciated, and absolutely respected, these women coming to me and telling me I was wrong. Effective leaders truly value team members who provide a perspective that changes the leader’s view and therefore her decision. Not only is it valuable to the leader, but it creates a sense of gratitude and trust between the leader and team member. So stop assuming you should only speak up when asked, and start proactively voicing your opinion. It will lead to both better company outcomes and a more productive and satisfying relationship between you and senior people.

Stop assuming that if you ask for help, you will look weak > Start leveraging others’ expertise and experience

This is a great piece of advice I got from a Partner at BCG. She told me that asking for help demonstrated confidence and resourcefulness. When I took her advice and asked for help from my senior BCG colleagues, I did not get the eye rolls I was expecting, but rather great intellectual engagement and counsel. I have also had women come to me for help only after they became completely frustrated from trying to figure things out on their own. And I have always told them to come to me sooner so that I can help them avoid dead ends and run-arounds. I have found that most people enjoy helping their fellow colleagues pursue productive paths to solve a problem; the exchange allows the person to leverage her own experience and stop someone else from making the same mistakes she made. I believe that wisdom is remembered mistakes, and people appreciate the opportunity to share their wisdom. So stop assuming that reaching out for help is a sign of weakness, and connect with those that can save you time and fuel better outcomes. Not only will your results improve, but your relationships with your colleagues will be that much stronger.

Assumptions can stop women from taking actions that would accelerate and strengthen their impact. We must challenge these assumptions so that we are inspired to express our ambitions, speak our truth, and fortify our professional relationships. Let’s reflect and identify our false assumptions, not only for ourselves but for our fellow women colleagues. Let’s support each other in dispelling these assumptions and igniting the move to action. It is one more step women can take to strengthen a culture of women supporting women.


*Photo Credit: posted to Flickr by Rich Anderson at

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